Share Well With Others: How To Get Social Content To Go Viral

Promoting content in social media is only half the battle. Once it is in the face of thousands of visitors, there needs to be some sort of emotional and psychological drive to get them to share that content with others. This is key in creating a “snowball effect” that will build perpetual motion to reach a much more pervasive audience.

I covered creating emotional “hooks” to lure people in to viewing content in The Anatomy of Linkbait, but that doesn’t necessarily provide a visitor with the same kind of emotions to want to pass the content along to an individual or mass audience.

Seven types of content sharing motives

To understand how to make content more shareable we must first understand what motivates people to share in the first place.

1. Self-expression

The biggest motivator in social media is self-expression. It’s great that there are so many different ways to do this in social media. When promoting content, use this motivator by providing easy ways for the visitor to express themselves, via social share buttons, comment threading, or some other form of engagement. If a person’s beliefs or interests are related to the content, then they will be glad to share it.

2. Affinity

Everyone wants to feel like they belong and that they’re a part of something. Sharing within communities helps meet that desire. This is an especially dominant motivating factor in niche related verticals or communities.

3. Validation

Confirming or approving something often times feeds the ego for many by making someone feel important. Content that provides personal validation will likely motivate someone to share with a wide audience.

4. Prurience

Obscene or lustful content can be highly shareable. Some people pass the guilt of consuming such content on to others to make themselves feel better about doing so in the first place.

5. Status achievement

Individuals like to be recognized for their efforts, especially publicly. If content or channels feature users who share the content, then they are far more likely to be motivated to do so.

6. Altruism

Benefiting others often times makes people feel better. Content can motivate visitors by giving them the opportunity to do something good for the community. For example, an environmental report to raise awareness can be a motivating factor to share it with others to get the message out.

7. Self-serving interests

Rewarding people for their efforts goes a long way. This can be done in the form of status achievement recognition, financial gain, free or discounted products or services, and so forth. Motivate people who share content by rewarding them if they do.

Sending vs. spreading

Viral sharing can reach many different audiences, hubs, and influencers. There are a few ways (and reasons why) people share content.


This type of viral sharing is most common via direct messaging through social networks, IM, or email. Dan Zarrella did a study on this and found that most people share in a one-to-one scenario due to:

  • Personal Relevance (40%)
  • Humor (16.4%)
  • Utility
  • Relationship Building (9.5%)
  • Common Interests (7.8%)
  • Sole Informant (5.9%)
  • Reciprocity (2.4%)


This type of viral sharing is most common on social networks and social content aggregation sites. Social media has created an outlet for this type of sharing to explode. Also in Dan’s study, he found that most people share to many others due to:

  • Audience Relevance (18.6%)
  • Increasing Reach (10.7%)
  • Increasing Reputation (8.8%)
  • Furthering a Message or Cause (8.6%)
  • Utility and Usefulness (7.4%)
  • Feedback (5.5%)
  • Personal Networking (5.25)

Below is a chart showing the most popular social media sites for sharing content. As you can see, Facebook is the furious leader.

Four tips for creating content for viral sharing

1. Value

Trust me, I’m just as sick of hearing “create great content” and “content is king” as you are, but it really is the key to in getting people to share. By creating valuable, resourceful, and compelling content you will seek the approval of the masses.

2. Credibility

Make sure that your domain, brand, and author(s) are always seeking to establish credibility. Often times it comes down to the credibility of the source, not the content or message itself.

3. Usability

Making the content easy to share and driving them to do so with a call-to-action will do wonders.

4. Digestibility

Make it easy for people to consume your content. Whether it’s putting boring statistical data in a visual infographic, formatting the layout of the content, or chunking and segmenting content with headers and other methods, you are providing an easy way for the user to digest the content. If they feel the content and data is easy to digest they’ll feel comfortable sharing it with others.

The takeaway…

While many people might think that viral Internet memes happen on their own, the shocking truth is that most of them don’t. There is a large cycle of creative, development, deployment, and seeding that ensures success. By readying content and campaigns for viral success, you are taking the first steps in the cycle.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Social | How To: Social Media Marketing | Search & Social


About The Author: is the Senior SEO Manager for the agency, Red Door Interactive.

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  • angus

    I would also add “affection”, like getting a Valentine from Matt Cutts:

  • DallasDave

    great info in this article! I have used all of it to share the ability to double rewards and miles on this cool website:


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